The books of the literary canon were written almost exclusively by straight men of European descent. There are exceptions: a handful of Russian authors, a few white women, a smattering of hispanic authors, and so on. But these make up a fraction of a fraction of the list of “classic books.”
So, let’s just start by saying, you know, this is a problem. And it’s a problem not just because of the exclusionary qualities, but because it’s a self-perpetuating issue. We teach students that books of a certain nature are “good,” which informs the definition of “good books” for those who will define the literary canon as it continues on to new iterations. And not just a problem because it’s a self-perpetuating issue, but because it threatens to limit one of the core benefits of reading as a practice: The cultivation of empathy through increased awareness of experiences dissimilar from our own.
But let me step back for a second and talk at this from a few different angles.
My Experience with the Canon
I want to be clear that the books in the canon are worthy entries, and there have been only a handful that I’ve regretted reading. Some of my favorite books (Picture of Dorian Gray, The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, etc.)are classics written by white dudes. So, really, I’m feeling more like a concerned citizen here than a rioter. But I also feel I have enough perspective that I can speak on this issue.
One of the greatest struggles for any would-be writer is finding the time, space, and — most importantly — motivation to actually write. To be sure, figuring out how to produce creative work consistently has been one of my own challenges. Over the years, I’ve come to a number of effective solutions.
In this article I’m going to make use of two pieces of my experience: what my studies of motivational psychology have taught me in relation to goal-setting and what’s worked well for me thus far. And with a current output of about 20 pages — or 5000 words — per week, things are certainly going well by my standards.
So, as you set your writing resolutions for 2017 and beyond, here is my advice.
I am a Ravenclaw (or Ravenpuff if you don’t mind the merging of Houses), Athena’s child, and probably Erudite/Amity. I own a Ravenclaw scarf and eagerly tell my friends that I am a member of that House. Magical groups are one of the most popular things in YA fiction. To classify as being part of a Hogwarts House, or Half-Blood Cabin, or post-apocalyptic faction; that’s exciting!
But why? Why do we enjoy it so much? Why are we, as readers, so intent on declaring a side?
Long ago, in a land not too far away, began a genre that is everywhere today. In 1864, science fiction began, but not as we know it. A man named Jules Verne began what would later be called science fiction with his story, The Journey to the Center of the Earth. While science fiction began with wondering what secrets were hidden beneath our feet, we have gone and surpassed that.
I love reading science fiction. It’s my favorite. But it does take some getting used to. There are people I know of who can’t watch or read science fiction. It’s wordy, complicated, and sometimes a bit vague. But if you can be patient and can stand watching and rereading some material, then the benefits of science fiction more than outweigh the time taken. Yes. There will be times where it is a mess to have to figure out who is speaking and why it matters that there is a martian that looks kinda like an ostrich, but the world it opens up is so worth it.
Genres are a tricky topic. On a fundamental level, they are a system for categorizing media. We use this system both for ease of access and for setting up expectations. There are music genres, film genres, literary genres, and many others. Genres help us find more of what we like. If I hear a song and decide that I like it, I can investigate that music genre and discover new treasures.
Sadly, there are also a number of difficulties associated with genres.
What’s going on with genres?
One issue with genres is the concern that people tend to become attached to one or more genres, to the exclusion of others. People sometimes use genre as their primary consideration. “Oh, it’s a sci-fi flick? No thanks, I’ll pass.” “A romance novel? Gross.” “Anime? You mean like kids’ cartoons?”
Another issue is the inconsistency of the genres themselves. Many genres seem to refer to a story’s prevailing story element, such as romance and horror. Others seem to be nothing more than a setting descriptor, such as historical fiction and science fiction. As a system for categorizing stories based on a single trait, this is not very helpful. There is nothing to say that there cannot be a romantic story set on a Mars colony, or that there cannot be a horror story set in 1920’s New York.
It’s October, which means it’s time to scare ourselves. For me, slasher films, gore, outright violence, and sudden attacks of “horror” do little. But “creepy” stories are different. I’m entirely susceptible to the subtle fear that works slowly into your bones. Now, I’m a guy who doesn’t discriminate against different storytelling mediums, so today I’m going to share books, movies, TV episodes, and video games that succeeded in creeping me out. Here’s my pick for the 7 creepiest stories of all time!
This story’s impact falls somewhere between “mind-warp” and “pretty damn creepy.” That’s a bit surprising, since this novelette isn’t written as a horror story. In fact, if it were published today it would be little more than a decently written dystopian tale. But it wasn’t published today. It was published in 1909.